Cormac Hanley Jnr riding Captain Caruso, son of Captain Clover

By Helen Sharp PhD
Photography: Anscomb, Tony Morris, Private Collections

In what would have been his 30th year, successful competitor and traditionally bred Irish sire, Captain Clover (Clover Hill - Merlina xx x Falcon xx) ISH TIH, has 577 progeny in the HSI register. Federico Tesio's Nearco xx is found in the 'engine room' on both the sire and dam side of Captain Clover, who is line-bred 5x5 on one of the greatest racehorses of the 20th century, with a whole lot of powerful Thoroughbred and Irish Draught DNA in between.

Most of Captain Clover’s offspring are imbued with his characteristic power, temperament and exceptional brain.
Captain Clover and Gabriel Slattery Jnr were a well-known combination on Ireland's national jumping circuit until the stallion was retired into breeding in 2003. With 75% Thoroughbred blood, he was bred by Cormac Hanley Snr of Claremorris, County Galway. Captain Clover's famous sire Clover Hill ISH RID (bred by Stan Page in County Galway and stood by Philip Heenan at Ringroe Stud in Co. Tipperary) is one of the most significant sport horse sires in recent history in Ireland.
Although 50% Thoroughbred himself, Clover Hill was controversially approved into the Irish Draught Register by stallion inspector Dick Jennings – not too popular a move amongst purists at the time, but vindicated since. Clover Hill's achievements as a sire are widely documented, and his influence is felt in every competition ring in Ireland. I often consider the impact of Ireland as an island country on its breeding, the reach of sires contained and therefore intensified – a geographical manipulation of the equine gene pool.
Captain Clover's dam Merlina xx was a 1975 16hh (162.5cms) mare by Falcon xx, and she remains a bit of an enigma. I hope to cast just a little light on her here as she brings with her some fascinating Thoroughbred lines, including being line bred on influential sire Blandford xx bred by Colonel William Hall-Walker of Tully Stud, from the Darley Arabian line. Blandford is renowned for passing on classical stamina and remains one of the very few stallions to sire four winners of the Epsom Derby. Hall-Walker controversially used astrology to guide his breeding programme, which would have been easy to knock had he not had so many successes. His hand-drawn book of astrologically designed foal charts from which he chose which to keep and which to sell can be found at the Irish National Stud and makes for riveting reading. In 1916 Hall-Walker gifted his Thoroughbreds to the British Government, and in turn, they bought his properties Tully Stud in Ireland and training stud Russley Park in England. The horses and properties eventually became the first National Stud of Great Britain and Irish National Stud (the running of the latter officially taken over by the newly formed Irish Government in 1946).

Legendary sire Nearco xx (1935-1957)

Merlina was a promising flat-bred racehorse injured on the track. Bred by Commander H Grenfell in Ireland, she was bought at Goffs' sales by the late Andy Creighton and his wife Marie in the late 1980s. Speaking with Marie, she admits that she didn't have much involvement with the horses as she was busy raising four children. Still, Marie does tell me something which indicates a personality trait that seems to run right through the family DNA to today's offspring: "It's funny, with all the horses that go through the yard, I don't remember many, a few you do though, and in particular I always remember that everybody loved Merlina. Even my daughter Sarah who was only five at the time, remembers Merlina as special and loved her.".. To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber